Since Lheidli T’enneh and McLeod Lake Indian Band started asking questions of School District No. 57 (SD57) operations, the provincial government has now stepped in to find the answers.
Jennifer Whiteside, B.C.'s Minister of Education, appointed two special advisors this week to examine the governance practices of SD57.
“We are very happy about it. We are very happy they are taking us seriously especially coming up here and doing a deeper probe,” said Lheidli T’enneh Dayi Clay Pountney in a news conference this morning (Feb. 17).
He said an Indigenous Outcomes Team came to Prince George in 2019 to discuss their concerns, but since then they haven’t seen any substantive changes on SD57’s part.
The relationship between the two First Nations and the district has been strained over recent years.
Dayi Pountney said he felt betrayed by the dual naming of the new Shas Ti-Kelly Road school building in 2020 and both nations have been requesting dedicated trustee seats on the board of education table since 2019.
At the start of February, Lhedili T’enneh and McLeod Lake announced a forensic audit request of SD57, claiming they've received no answers about how the funding for Indigenous students is being used.
Another key issues for both nations is the continual low graduation rates for Indigenous students.
Both of the advisors appointed to review SD57’s governance practices have extensive expertise in Indigenous education and relations as well as educational leadership.
The advisors are Kory Wilson, executive director of Indigenous initiatives and partnerships at the B.C. Institute of Technology (BCIT), and Catherine McGregor, associate professor and associate dean of graduate programs and research at the University of Victoria’s faculty of education.
“I really hope this gets the relationship better and I hope they look at the processes and everything that has been going on. I really hope we fix it. That is what has to happen. We have to make this better,” says Dayi Pountney.
The appointments begin immediately and the advisors’ review is scheduled to be completed on or before June 1, 2021.
“The appointment of two special advisors means the BC government is listening and we appreciate it,” Deputy Chief of McLeod Lake Indian Band Jayde Duranleau in a statement.
“In the past year, we have asked questions about how SD57 spends the funds we send each year for the education of our students. We recently asked for a forensic audit and we are still waiting for a response from SD57. We are concerned that racism may also be a factor in SD57. We are tired of being education advisors in the public school system that operates in our territories. We look forward to working with the special advisors to resolve these issues.”
Under the School Act, the advisors may enter schools and district offices and can inspect board records. The board and its employees must also assist the special advisors in carrying out their duties.
The act also allows government to replace an entire board with an official trustee.
Dayi Pountney said while the advisors are mandated to examine the board’s governance practices, Lheidli T’enneh and McLeod Lake Indian Band will still be advocating for the forensic audit and the appointment of two additional Indigenous trustees as well.
“We want to make sure the dollars are spent properly,” says Pountney, adding the big picture is examining how the district operates, which he believes will benefit everyone.
“If this isn’t working, how do we make it better?”
The special advisors will submit bi-monthly progress updates to the minister and provide a final report.
At the conclusion of the appointment, Whiteside will assess the situation and determine next steps.